Jews all over the world started celebrating yesterday the holiday of Shavuot, the holiday that is also known by its names ‘the time of the giving of the Torah’ and also by the name “Hag Habikurim” The name ‘First Fruits Day’ came about because of the mitzvah to bring to the Temple a gift of the first fruits of the wheat harvested from the Land of Israel this season. The name ‘Time of Giving the Torah’ refers to the historical event that took place on this day around Mount Sinai. The event when God made a covenant with the people coming out of Egypt, the ancestors of the Jewish nation.
The ‘Mount Sinai event did not occur immediately with the departure from the territories of Egypt. They wandered in the desert for fifty days, and on the fiftieth day they experienced a divine revelation which is engraved in the national heart to this day.
The sages of Israel learned from the verses in the Torah preceding the description of the revelation, and found that when the people arrived at the foot of Mount Sinai it was said “And Israel encamped in front the mountain” – in Hebrew says ‘Vaichan’ which is a singular, unlike the previous description which was written in the plural “And they journeyed… and came… and encamped…” From this the sages learned that the socio-moral situation of the people had changed. If until now the people were divided and between different groups, then at this stage the people became “as one man – with one heart”. The condition for receiving the Torah is to be as a one person, as one man – with one heart. God did not give the Torah to a certain group and certainly not to individuals in the nation.
The Torah was given to the entire nation, to the united nation. Therefore, each and every one is invited to expand his knowledge in the Torah, to study and meditate on it. To draw wisdom and life values from it. However, the main preparation for our ‘Mount Sinai event’ is the idea of ”as one man – in one heart”. We are called to unite in preparation for the giving of the Torah, recognizing the special virtue of the Torah to be the flag around which the people unite, even if everyone colors this flag in their own colors. The Talmudic story is famous about the man who came to Hillel Hazaken, the president of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem at that time and asked him to teach him the entire Torah on ‘one foot’. That person was not stupid and knew very well that learning the entire Torah is a project that must be invested in for many years. But he sought to distill and define the fundamental, core principle on which Judaism stands. Hillel answered him with the following sentence: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your friend – this is the entire Torah, and the rest is interpretation, go and learn…” Hillel found that love of others is the foundation of all Judaism.
Of course, he emphasized that this is not all of Judaism and directed that person to continue to learn more, but he placed everything on the moral foundation of love for others and unity.
If we were asked from where Hillel came to the idea that unity and love of others are the values that stand at the foundation of Judaism, he may have learned this from the biblical description of the ‘Mount Sinai event’. If the Torah was only given when the people were “as one man – with one heart”, then this is the nucleus on which only one can move forward and receive the entire Torah.
Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Refael Cohen